President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will meet face to face for the first time on Tuesday for a highly anticipated debate that could set the course for the five remaining weeks of the campaign.
The clash will present both candidates with an opportunity to frame the choice before voters this November, to lay out their case and prosecute the case against each other.
But it will also give both candidates the opportunity to commit gaffes that will define them in the minds of voters. In an election in which so few voters remain undecided, the prospect of a self-inflicted wound — a forgetful moment, an awkward line, a slip of the tongue — is a greater threat to either Trump or Biden than anything they might say about each.
“A debate does not change a lot of minds. Most people come to the debate when we get to this point in a long campaign and they’re committed. They’re viewing the debate for reinforcement and motivation,” said Mitchell McKinney, director of the Political Communication Institute at the University of Missouri.
The primary goal Trump and Biden must achieve isn’t to win, debate historians and experts said. It’s to not lose.
“What you want to do is you want to hold your base, so you try not to lose, basically. You try to avoid the big gaffe, the misstatement,” said Joseph Tuman, a political communications expert at San Francisco State University.
The challenge will be especially difficult for President Trump, as the incumbent. Sitting presidents have had rocky first debates in recent history, partly because they are used to being the unquestioned center of attention in every room they enter. For four years, Trump has not stood on stage with an equal…Read more>>